Midfield roving role or Figo's place are there for the taking

Real with Beckham: Fitting in with the Bernabeu superstars
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The Independent Football

The parallel plot at Real Madrid these last few weeks has been whether Vicente del Bosque will stay on as coach. Beckham will be a happy man if he stays. Every Real player's favourite uncle, the quiet, understated del Bosque will show Beckham the kind of respect that has been wanting of late from the Scot to whom he used to refer as a "father-figure".

Asked what he thought of Beckham a few days before that amazing Champions' League quarter-final against Manchester United at the Bernabeu, this was del Bosque's response: "All I will say is that I have been following him since he was 17 years old and I think he is a fantastic player with great technical abilities."

Del Bosque's team will probably clinch the Spanish championship this weekend. That hinges on whether they beat Athletic Bilbao at home on Sunday. The reason why it is a good bet that they will is that Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and company know that if they do win, it will be almost impossible for Real to ditch Del Bosque. And, as they have never tired of saying in recent weeks, Ronaldo, Zidane and company love their coach.

Where Sir Alex Ferguson is stern, del Bosque is indulgent. Where Ferguson is blunt, Del Bosque is polite. Beckham, like the other superstars at Real Madrid, will appreciate that.

Short of failing appallingly to adapt, he will also be assured of starting in the team. Because del Bosque is what in Spain they call "un hombre de club" - a club man. Which means not just that he has been there as player and member of the coaching staff for 30 years but what he does what the club want him to do. And what the club - meaning chiefly the powerful president, Florentino Perez - will want him to do is give maximum exposure to the man who will represent Real's most lucrative commercial investment to date.

As to where Beckham will play, how he will fit into the team, probably very happily. First of all, del Bosque's eminence grise, Jorge Valdano, is on record as saying that Beckham's rightful place is in the centre of midfield. The former Argentine World Cup winner, the club's sporting director and right-hand man of Perez, has described the right wing as Beckham's place of "exile".

Which is not to say that Beckham will not formally be positioned there. He might well, expecially if the rumours about Luis Figo being transferred this summer turn out to be true. But like Figo he will be given much greater licence than he has had at United to roam. In fact, he will be actively encouraged to do so, much as he is by Sven Goran Eriksson.

Figo is not the force he was. He peaked during his last two years at Barcelona and his first at Real Madrid. That was three years ago now. He does remain an excellent player, with a range - dribbling, pace, ability with both feet - that Beckham lacks. But possibly Beckham is the more effective player today in terms of the nitty-gritty business of scoring and creating goals.

Figo and Beckham could play together, though. There is a slot in right centre midfield, next to Claude Makelele, which Real have never conclusively filled this season. One could see Beckham enjoying himself there, with the dynamic defensive cover Makelele provides. One could see him rotating to dangerous effect with Figo and the adventurous right-back Michel Salgado. The three could form quite a triangle, not least because Figo and Salgado are the two only regular starters in the Real team who happen to speak good English.

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